This was one of only two freshman series in the 1990-91 NBC primetime lineup to get renewed for a second season. The other was The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
...But I Play One on TV: Actor Fred Thompson's reputation as a "law and order candidate" (no pun intended) came more from his time on this show as Arthur Branch than on anything he'd actually said or done.
The Cast Show Off: Jerry Orbach's talent at pool surfaces numerous times during the series. Notably, in "Everybody Loves Raimando's" Lennie Briscoe does cool trick shots to convince a hitman that he's not a cop, then arranges a meeting with said hitman to nail him.
Attorney and politician Fred Thompson played the district attorney for several years, though he also had prior acting experience playing the roles of senior government officials and authority figures, so this would be a cross between Cast the Expert and Typecasting.
Joe Fontana was a police officer with the Chigaco Police Department before moving to New York. Dennis Farina served with CPD for 18 years in Real Life before beginning his acting career.
The Character Died with Him: After Jerry Orbach's death in 2004 it was made clear on several occasions that (now-retired) Lennie Briscoe has passed on offscreen as well. In a sweet touch, it's acknowledged by all three of his onscreen partners: Green discusses it during his later years on the show, Logan mentions it on Criminal Intent (apparently he took it pretty hard), and Benjamin Bratt even returned for a brief guest appearance as Curtis, where he discusses Lennie's passing with Lt. Van Buren at his wife's funeral.
Dyeing for Your Art: S. Epatha Merkerson prefers to keep her hair in braids and, during her stint on the show, wore a wig over her natural hair to give Van Buren a more "professional" look.
Executive Meddling: A strangely positive case. You know S. Epatha Merkerson's character? How about Jill Hennessy's? Both came about via NBC wanting more women on the cast. Thus, Dann Florek (Don Cragen) and Richard Brooks (Paul Robinette) were written out of the series, since the show's formula could only handle six principals. (Although this was a negative from the point of view of the two actors and their fans, Brooks was able to reprise the his role in a later episode to give closure to the character, while Florek received a not-bad consolation prize - he was cast in a central role on the long-running SVU spin-off. Both Michael Moriarty and Chris Noth were bitter about NBC's meddling; the former even went on rants in public about the whole deal and proved to be a liability for Dick Wolf. Thus, both actors were canned (or resigned) in Seasons 4 and 5, respectively.
Jill Hennessy is Canadian. Hennessy's character (Claire Kincaid) does have a slight accent.
Same with Linus Roache, who has a very thick English accent but pulls off a compelling Brooklyn accent in his portrayal of Mike Cutter.
It is sometimes erroneously stated that Michael Moriarty is also Canadian; in fact, he was born and raised and began his career in the United States, but later became a Canadian citizen after leaving Law & Order.
George Dzundza disliked commuting from Los Angeles to shoot in New York and bristled at the show's focus on the ensemble over its leads (namely, him). This didn't endear him to said ensemble and he left after the first season. Allegedly he and his onscreen partner Chris Noth had a particular antipathy which, fortunately, added depth and realism to the squabbles between their characters. His replacement, Paul Sorvino, got along better with the cast but had trouble keeping up with the show's grueling filming schedule and asked to be released from his contract after just a season and a half. He was replaced by Jerry Orbach. Fortunately, everybody (up to and including the real NYPD) loved Jerry Orbach.
Noth and Michael Moriarty were very displeased by the controversial removal of Dann Florek and Richard Brooks due to NBC wanting females added on the show, and their relationships with Dick Wolf went downhill as a result. Moriarty also became increasingly hostile to the show's "liberal" political bent (ironically, Wolf supported the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush and other L&O cast member Senator Fred Thompson, both conservative Republicans), and wasn't pleased when Bill Clinton won the Presidential election in 1992. He constantly and very publicly attacked US Attorney General Janet Reno, accusing her of actively censoring network television and "forcing" shows like Law & Order to promote the agenda of the Clinton administration. Moriarty left at the end of the show's fourth season, and vowed never to return unless NBC fired Wolf (which as of this writing, they have yet to do). Tellingly, unlike Florek and Brooks and even Chris Noth, all of whom left the show on unpleasant terms, Moriarty has never returned to the franchise, and indeed, his character was killed offscreen on the Spin-OffLaw & Order: Special Victims Unit in 2018.
Noth stayed on an extra year, partly because he was very popular with female viewers, and partly because unlike Moriarty, he avoided tilting at windmills and focused his ire on Wolf himself. Noth even claimed the show was better with an all-male cast. After his contract was up at the end of the fifth season, Wolf declined to renew it and Noth was fired - and replaced with another Mr. Fanservice in Benjamin Bratt as the new junior detective. However, Noth and Wolf patched things up surprisingly quickly - just three years later Noth's character of Det. Mike Logan returned as the lead character of the only telefilm in franchise history, Exiled: A Law & Order Movie, and went on to costar on Law & Order: Criminal Intent after star Vincent D'Onofrio started to experience burnout due to the latter series' grueling schedule.
Life Imitates Art: Both Jamie Ross and her actress, Carey Lowell, left for the same reasons: they wanted to spend more time with their daughters.
McLeaned: Rumor has it that Alexandra Borgia's particularly brutal death was a result of actress Annie Parisse refusing to sleep with one of the show's writers. Though it's since been debunked. Word of God says she left because she felt unfulfilled in her role and wanted to explore different acting opportunities, and the reason she was killed off was because the writers had always wanted to murder an A.D.A.
The judge who is both senile and being guided by his law clerk in Season 19's "Zero" is named Malcolm Reynolds.
One of the victims in Season 2's "The Wages of Love" was named Edward Cullen.
Crossed with Appeal to Obscurity: From "House Calls," which is about the death of an aspiring model. Andee Mae Khan, who runs the modeling agency in the episode, talks about how, in modeling, "an inch here, an ounce there" means the difference between (Real Life supermodel) Elle MacPherson and "Cookie Rutigliano." Green asks who that is and Khan says, "That's my point." This episode was written by Janis Diamond, who was later one of the writers of the short-lived TNT series Bull, which included a character named Cookie Rutigliano.
The Pete Best: The original DA was not Adam Schiff, but Alfred Wentworth, who appeared only in the pilot. By the time the show was picked up as a series, Wentworth's actor, Roy Thinnes, had taken a co-starring role in Dark Shadows (1991).
Tom Hanks Syndrome: Jerry Orbach was originally known as a song-and-dance man (Lumiere in Beauty and the Beast is a good example of the sort of roles he took prior to L&O) and was an immensely respected stage actor. Being cast as Lennie Briscoe, however, greatly changed the trajectory of his career.
Troubled Production: Though the series was ultimately a huge success, it had a bit of a rough start.
One of the major problems was actor George Dzundza's disastisfaction with the show; Dzundza had believed he was to be the show's singular main character, and was disgruntled to find himself as part of an ensemble main cast, reinforced by the fact that his character was often important only in the first half of an episode. Dzundza departed the show after the first season, alleviating much of the conflict.
Michael Moriarty, who played the original district attorney Ben Stone, also caused difficulty for his co-stars and the producers. Among other things, Moriarty had a habit of publicly ranting and name-calling at public figures, most famously calling then-Attorney General Janet Reno a "psychopathic Nazi" for her attempts to cap violence on television; when the producers asked him to tone it down, he responded by quitting the show. note Moriarty did later admit that he had had an alcohol problem during his time on the show, although it's unclear if this was related to his behavior, as he continued to be known for his bizarre and unusual political rants long after he claimed he was sober.
Jerry Orbach had performed in numerous musicals and other performances prior to his role on the show, playing a detective character only once in a movie. Nevertheless, his performance in that movie impressed Dick Wolf so much that he wanted Jerry to continue with the snarky detective character; because of his immense popularity as Det. Lennie Briscoe, he remains instantly recognizable as his detective character.
Dennis Farina, as mentioned before, was a cop in the Chicago PD, so he played numerous police roles before and after his stint as Joe Fontana.
Underage Casting: Jill Hennessy was twenty-four when she was cast as Claire Kincaid. In the United States the minimum age at which one can graduate from law school is twenty-five. But, if don't take any time off and have a birthday after May, you would graduate at twenty-four (high school graduation at seventeen, college at twenty-one, law school at twenty-four). It's not common, but it's possible, especially if you commit to becoming a lawyer young. Alternatively the physical differences between someone aged 24 and 25 are close to nonexistent so almost no one in the audience would notice.Had she been 19 then it would stick out a bit more proeminently.
Claire also clerked for a judge for two years before joining the D.A.'s office.
Less tragically, Detective John Munch from Homicide: Life on the Street was originally pitched as joining the original series as Detective Briscoe's new partner, but by the time the suggestion was made, Jesse L. Martin had already been hired, so he was moved to SVU instead.
Alana de la Garza's pregnancy would have been written into Season 21 if the show had not been canceled.
Remember those crossovers that would involve Law & Order and Homicide: Life on the Street? At one point, producers wanted the story arc to include ER, but ER's producers either declined outright or the collective group couldn't figure out how to work the latter show in, so the idea was dropped.
A new commanding officer at the 2-7 would have been introduced in Season 21, had there been one. S. Epatha Merkerson announced her departure from the show well in advance of its cancellation.
A particularly weird case: While Lennie Briscoe became the face of the franchise for the better part of the series, actor Jerry Orbach first appeared in the second season as defense attorney Frank Lehrmann. Every bit as much of a Deadpan Snarker as his later detective character, Orbach's attorney character is remembered for the line "It's called plea bargaining, not plea scalping!"
An equally strange example includes S. Epatha Merkerson playing the bereaved mother of a murder victim years before she was cast as Lieutenant Van Buren.
Annie Parisse played the stripper girlfriend of a defendant shortly before being cast as ADA Borgia. Parisse allegedly wanted to play the same character and claim that she had been working as a stripper to pay for law school, but Dick Wolf wasn't keen on the idea, and not without reason; in story, initially Jack wasn't keen on Abby becoming his assistant due to her inexperience- she'd been an ADA for five years at that point. Given the short timespan between Annie Parisse's appearance as a stripper and her debut as Borgia, it would stretch credibility that she went from paying her way through law school to climbing the ranks of the DA's office in such a short amount of time.
Additionally, a clean-shaven Jeremy Sisto appears as defense attorney Clint Glover in the season finale of the 17th season. In the very next episode, he returns as a scruffy Detective Cyrus Lupo and continues this role for the rest of the series. It's explained that Lupo had been working for the NYPD Intelligence Division in Iraq for the previous four years.
Several character actors appeared numerous times in the series, each time in a different role. As examples:
Comedian Larry Miller appeared three times — twice as a husband who hired people to murder his two wives, and once as himself.
It's a bit off-putting when a certain actor (Paul Calderon, to be specific) appears as a pedophilic child rapist who pours insecticide on a 10-year-old girl in one episode, reappears as a particularly good lawyer in another, and then reappears as a decorated war veteran acquitted for assaulting and killing a college student in another.
Character actor Jonathan Hogan played seven different characters on the various Law & Order shows, including four different characters on the mother show.
Future Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi played numerous characters across Law & Order as well as its spin-offs: a hot dog vendor, a pornography store owner, a university professor, and finally a judge on Trial By Jury.Mandvi has gone on record as saying they're all the same guy, and he's very proud of that guy for working his way up in the world.
eljko Ivanek made one appearance on Law and Order as a smug corrupt businessman, convicted for murdering an elderly man who swindled money from him (which he had, in turn, swindled for his wealthy friends) who managed to get acquitted after the police actually find the body years later. After that, he made at least two appearances as his Homicide character before making another appearance as a different character. Ivanek also appeared on SVU alongside Richard Belzer, who he had previously starred with in Homicide.
Anthony Anderson had first appeared in the SVU episode "Fat" as Elliot Stabler's temporary partner a rule-bending, hotheaded detective named Lucius Blaine, before playing a lead in the last 3 seasons of Law and Order.
Eric Bogosian appeared as a defense attorney in two episodes of the early L&O seasons, more than a decade before he started out as Cpt. Danny Ross in Law & Order: Criminal Intent.
Joanna Merlin had recurring appearances in several episodes of L&O as, weirdly enough, two different defense attorneys, Carla Bowman and Deirdre Powell, before she was established as Judge Lena Petrovsky in SVU.
Before Michelle Hurd was cast as Det. Monique Jeffries in SVU, she made a guest appearance as dubious informant in L&O episode "Entrapment".
Cynthia Nixon played Laura Di Biasi on the L&O Season 1 episode "Subterranean Homeboy Blues" and Janis Donovan on the SVU Season 9 episode "Alternate."
Michael Gross played Carl Braddock on the L&O episode "Trade This!," Arthur Esterman on the SVU episode "Lust," Jeffrey Prince on the SVU episode "Assaulting Reality" and Dr. Charles Webb on the CI episode "Crazy."